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Since the dawn of social media, the entertainment world has struggled to keep projects separated from the often outspoken stars who populate them, and it doesn't always take much to incite an online backlash. Such is the case with ABC's juggernaut revival Roseanne, whose namesake star Roseanne Barr has polarized many through Twitter and other means. Most recently, controversial images of Barr dressed as a cookie-baking Hitler have again gone viral (often sans info about the pics' origins within a Jewish culture satire magazine), but Roseanne showrunner Bruce Helford doesn't want to talk about it, and he doesn't want fans to think about all that.
The show is not representing her personal politics. The Conners were Bill Clinton voters back in the day. Those people have very heavily shifted toward Trump. We did our due diligence on what all that would be about. And the show, aside from the fact that Roseanne Barr and Roseanne Conner both happen to be Trump supporters, has been borne out to be pretty realistic, in terms of the demographics of that area [the Midwest]. But aside from that, there's a big difference between anyone's personal politics and what the show is about. They're not meant to be interrelated in any way.
So much of the dialogue ahead of Roseanne's new season was focused on how politically motivated the new storylines and character motivations would be, with much of that fueled by Roseanne Barr herself, an avid Donald Trump supporter who'd teased that the Conner family's latest exploits would be taking place squarely within the current political climate. But as viewers have seen through the first three episodes, Trump's role as the President in the Conners' America doesn't mean the sitcom's storylines are solely about D.C. exploits, or how Barr and the other actors personally feel about it all. That said, by showing audiences the problems that the different generations of the Conner family are currently facing, Roseanne can still reflect the average U.S. household without its plots getting bogged down by real-life opinions.
Of course, the premiere episode did very directly address Donald Trump as President, which came through Roseanne and Jackie's decision to put an end to their year-long feud that was spawned by the 2016 election. And while everyone's thoughts may vary on the matter, it was done in a largely traditional TV kind of way that didn't demonize the characters or broach any extreme subject matter. And that's exactly what fans should expect for the rest of the season, without trying to read between the lines to discern when and where Barr's political views may surface.
While speaking with THR, Bruce Helford talked further about how he and the creative team crafted Roseanne's political discussions in the most balanced way possible to bring viewers closer together, instead of splitting them apart like many social media interactions tend to do.
My feeling is that people should just watch the show and judge it on its merits. Watch the show without the accompanying background noise. Everybody, including Roseanne, wanted the show to be balanced. When we talk about wanting to open a dialogue in America, that's something that the show does. We're not trying to perform brain surgery or cure cancer. We all hoped that this would open a dialogue where people would start laughing at themselves a little bit, get a little less polarized and realize that this is a universal conversation. Lots of families find themselves divided on these issues. There's got to be a way to talk and still love each other the way that Roseanne and Jackie made their peace. And that's really what we want to have come out of it.
Of course, people will think what they want about whatever they want, and we're all free to do just that. But with the kind of ratings that Roseanne is bringing in, it looks like a lot of people are thinking how great it is to have the sitcom back in primetime, regardless of what its stars are up to in the real world. Even Trump knows it.
With many more issues left to bring into focus soon (and in the future, thanks to its Season 2 renewal), Roseanne airs Tuesday nights on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET. Check out what Helford thinks Roseanne's success means for TV in general, and to see what other new and returning shows will be popping up in primetime soon, head to our midseason premiere schedule and our summer premiere schedule.